Cowles Mountain Trail: Mission Trails Regional Park, San Diego

Discover the beauty of Cowles Mountain Trail (pronounced Coles or Coals), nestled within the expansive Mission Trails Regional Park in San Diego. Cowles Mountain offers captivating views and a stimulating experience for outdoor enthusiasts of all skill levels.

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Trailhead Information and Facilities

The trailhead for the Cowles Mountain hike is easily accessible, with ample parking available at the Golfcrest Drive lot. There is no entry fee or permit required to hike this trail. Facilities at the trailhead include restrooms and informative signage detailing the trail’s route and nearby points of interest.

About Cowles Mountain Trail

Cowles Mountain showcases diverse topography, scenery, and vegetation, winding through chaparral, coastal sage scrub, and lush grasslands. This hike, rated as moderate, is family-friendly and suitable for most age groups and fitness levels. This 2.6-mile out-and-back trail takes approximately 2 hours to complete and boasts an elevation gain of about 950 feet. Dogs on a leash are welcome to join you on your hike.

Hiking the Cowles Mountain Trail

To begin your Cowles Mountain hike, follow the well-maintained trail from the trailhead as it ascends steadily toward the 1,593-foot summit. Pay attention to the trail markers and posted signs, which will guide you through the switchbacks. Be prepared for a few steep sections, but rest assured that there are plenty of flat areas to catch your breath and enjoy the scenery. For the best experience, consider starting your hike early in the morning to avoid the crowds and midday heat. Cowles Mountain also makes a great evening hike, especially on a clear night.

What to Expect on Cowles Mountain Trail

Expect a mixture of rocky and dirt terrain, with some areas that may be uneven or slightly eroded. Watch for the diverse wildlife and plants along the trail, including lizards, hummingbirds, and vibrant wildflowers during the spring months. The panoramic views from the summit of Cowles Mountain are not to be missed, offering stunning views of downtown San Diego, the Pacific Ocean, and the surrounding mountain ranges.

When to Go

  • Fall
  • Spring
  • Summer
  • Winter

What to Bring & Wear

  • Hiking shoes or boots with plenty of traction
  • At least one liter of water
  • Sunscreen & hat